You have to hand it to Paul Thomas Anderson. Five years ago, the director unveiled his last film, "There Will Be Blood," as a surprise at Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, skipping the established festival circuit entirely for a film that turned out to be the best received of 2007. It seemed, briefly, that his follow-up, "The Master," might have a more conventional release strategy for an awards-type film, with news leaking out that the film was set to premiere at Venice before going on to TIFF, perhaps suggesting a more conventional type of marketing push from distributors The Weinstein Company.
But trust Anderson to pull a surprise somewhere down the line. Rather than a glitzy red carpet premiere at an international festival, the first public screening of "The Master" took place last night, unannounced, after an American Cinematheque screening of Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" at the Aero Theater in Santa Monica, CA. Projected in Anderson's preferred format of 70mm, almost no one knew that it was happening in advance, but word soon leaked out to In Contention, among others.
It's a pretty great way of letting the film get its time in the festival sun and yet still zag where some expected it to zig, and we wonder if similar secret screenings might take place in the run up to the film's opening date on September 14th. Inevitably, of course, word started to leak out about the film on Twitter from those lucky so-and-sos who were there: we've rounded up the reactions, so far, which seem to be pretty positive, from breathless raves to a little more guarded, but still enthusiastic. Have a look below, and we'll update when more come in.
@michaelwhittle "Possibly the best film watching experience I've ever had. #THEMASTER70MM"
@TotallySketch (Michael Gallagher) "Just saw 'The Master'. A movie has never made me feel quite like this one did. I can't describe it or even rate it. I am speechless."
@aaldere1 (Andrew P Alderete, "The Social Network" producer Dana Brunetti's assistant) "The Master was amazing. Oscars all over this one."
@LoganDoe "@prfessorbigsock Hoffman is one of the finest actors alive. The Master is (more) proof. #themaster"
@pillowfightin "@cigsandredvines Saw The Master in 70mm at the Aero Santa Monica. Surprise screening after The Shining. Its like nothing yvever seen before."
@jessecrall "The Master: B+ hazy, meandering story with beautiful staging and headed by Phoenix's brilliant, year's-best performance. @kristapley"
@Super_Matts "THE MASTER is...interesting...I'll be thinking about it for days #THEMASTER70MM J Phoenix and P S Hoffman are out of this world"
@DubstepElitist "duuuuuude, the master was goooooooooood"
And the most extensive reaction so far comes from 16-year-old cinephile Victor Escobar: his tweets after the film can be found below.
"@scottEweinberg Of course! Don't want to say more than a few words about it but it is an all around excellent film."
"@MattMustin @scottEweinberg No doubt about it. I've yet to see one bad PSH performance but this one may be his best."
"@prfessorbigsock 2hrs 10 min. Will get nods for Picture. Good chance of winning original screenplay and acting awards."
"@TheDaltonator If it were me, I'd put them both in the Best Actor category but if one them is getting the supporting nod, its Hoffman."
"@GusCruz At winning? No. It will have its fair share of detractors and its not a "safe" choice.""If you guys can, see The Master in 70 mm. Looked gorgeous and its the way P.T Anderson wants you to see it. "
Jeff Wells at Hollywood Elsewhere also has a source, "bobfilm," who was there last night, and sent along a reaction, which perhaps suggest that it may not be terribly accessible, but that Phoenix is particularly good.
"I'm still digesting everything I saw, but it was pretty amazing. It was like a strange fever dream. [But] not audience friendly AT ALL. An ambiguous ending and not one likable character. And without any 'milkshake' lines, it probably won't have the breakthrough that There Will Be Blood had... There are three or four scenes between Phoenix and Hoffman that are barn burners. It also containts the best work Amy Adams has ever done... Phoenix WILL win Best Actor unless Daniel Day Lewis blows us away with [his] Lincoln performance. This is Raging Bull territory for him. Believe it or not, his performance is stranger than that fake doc he made. The only way I can describe him is 'animalistic.' (I think the Master title refers to more of a dog and his master. At least that was the vibe I got).. The style feels like Terrence Malick by way of There Will Be Blood."
Exciting stuff. "The Master" will, it would seem, officially premiere in Venice on September 1st before heading to Toronto, and then rolling out in limited release on September 14th.